Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
The new Copper Grill made me want to buy a condo upstairs in 300 Third, the copper-sheathed high-rise topped by million-dollar dwellings of the rich and famous.
Sure I'd want to cook a lot in my gourmet kitchen, well supplied with fancy ingredients or heat-and-eat dinners from the Copper Grocery next door to the ground floor restaurant.
But the temptation would be great to glide down to the Copper Grill, one of the handsomest restaurant settings in town. It's modern, but not harshly so, with yards of polished woodwork, artsy light fixtures dangling from the high ceilings, stained concrete flooring and a high and handsome bar positioned just perfectly to see others and be seen. It's not dressy, but it's no place for slumming either. The business casual look seems right for settling into the leather loungers grouped around flat-screen TVs near the bar.
Thanks to owner Mary Beth Ringgold (Capers, Cajun's) for thoughtfully ordering sturdy wooden dining chairs with deep leather cushions — perfect for a long evening at the table.
Food, you ask? It's not challenging. But we weren't seeking challenges. We visited first because we were pulled magnetically by the smell of grilling hamburger, wafting from an exhaust vent. The $6.75 cheeseburger was just fine, though leaner than some might like. A small side of onion rings couldn't have been better — three huge, crunchy rings of very sweet onion for 95 cents. Imagine, a restaurant item under a dollar.
This is by no means a burger joint, but burgers aren't the only comfort food. A house hit are balls of macaroni and cheese dipped in panko (Asian-style bread crumbs) and deep fried. Wonderful. So is the blackberry dipping sauce, but it's superfluous.
Call this an urban grill. You can get in and out for a sandwich (a catfish po boy even), whether at lunch or dinner, or you can go the long haul with pricier entrees, multiple courses and wine from a huge selection displayed in a temperature-controlled, glass-enclosed room.
For example: Our party had halibut broiled on a cedar plank and served with mustard sauce, a huge slab of rare grilled tuna with a pool of ginger sauce and a flavorful ribeye. Entrees range from $16 for stuffed chicken breast to $29 for filet mignon with plenty of choices on the lower end of that scale. Entrees include a starchy side dish — from basmati rice, to mashed potatoes, fried sweet potatoes and savory bread pudding flavored with rosemary. The fish was superb — fresh and moist. The sauces were simple and gently applied. The Angus steak was cut generously and, though not very thick, not overcooked. It was a little chewy and not as rich as you find at some prime steakhouses, but not nearly as expensive either.
Starters include some of the good soups Ringgold sells in the frozen food case next door (roasted red pepper is a winner) and a number of salads — caprese, warm goat cheese with pears and walnuts and some (steak and salmon) that can serve as a meal. Warm camembert ($7.50) and grilled flat bread with a choice of toppings such as steak and bleu cheese with caramelized onions ($10.95) will put a dent in your appetite. Indeed, just about everything here is served in large portions. Three of us had plenty to start with in a serving of cream flan topped with corn, goat cheese and jumbo grilled shrimp ($9.95).
The “from scratch” desserts were fine, but not transcendent — we tried red velvet cake, “decadent triple layer mud pie” (an ice cream pie with a chocolate cookie crust) and the “stacked banana creme brulee tostada.” The last simply didn't add up to a sum greater than its parts — fried, sweetened tortillas, sauteed bananas, chocolate mousse. Not a single element was off, it just ended up being architectural fun with food.
Lunch offers many sandwiches, including chicken salad, egg and olive, French dip, roast beef and turkey. I can vouch for the pimento cheese that's used to top one of the burgers. I bought a tub next door and tore through it. There are also lunch specials, such as a shrimp burrito served with jalapeno rice and black beans (Trio's, anyone?)
Some other points to note: Dozens of wines are sold by the glass. The bar made a perfectly icy martini. Service was earnest and friendly, though some servers are inexperienced. They've been trained to inquire frequently — very frequently — how things are, a custom we'd just as soon see retired. One slightly off note from a couple of very pleasant visits to a place we expect to visit again and again: Some of the hot food could have been a mite warmer.
Speaking of warm: A broad terrace along sometimes noisy Cumberland Street might be nice in pleasant weather, but we opted for the a/c, particularly since the terrace was thronged with smokers.
Sorry, but I don't see how a return visit is going to make those soft…